IESC: Developing & Expanding the Skill Ecosystem for Benefit of Infrastructure Equipment Sector

H. S. Mohan, Chief Executive Officer, IESC
H. S. Mohan, Chief Executive Officer, IESC, discusses the challenges and the measures being taken towards training and upskilling operators and mechanics as the CE Industry becomes more technically advanced and projects become more complex, requiring skilled operators to manoeuvre in all kinds of terrains and requiring skilled mechanics to provide timely maintenance to the machines to prevent their downtimes. He is confident that having a pool of trained and certified workforce in association with government bodies and OEMs will help the CE Industry to grow at a faster rate.

Despite a lot being said and done, the challenge of upskilling and training operators remains. How can the construction equipment industry meet the growing demand for trained and certified operators and mechanics?
There is an urgent need to address the requirement for a skilled workforce in the CE industry. It is estimated that over 6 lakh Operators and Mechanics, who are currently deployed in the field, need to take up a short duration training of 40 hours.

The Ministry of Skill Development is taking a keen interest in training programs like the RPL model (Recognition of Prior Learning) for re-skilling/upskilling of field personnel, which will also pave the way for career progression of the candidates.

Under the Recognition of Prior Learning 4 program, the candidates are certified for the National Qualification Level (NSQF Level) by the Indian Government, with an additional insurance coverage of 2 lakhs for 3 years. Candidates will also be paid Rs. 500/- as incentive through direct benefit transfer. The Infrastructure Equipment Skill Council (IESC) has trained over 35,000 candidates under this learning program. This program needs to continue to cover the existing workforce.

However, challenges remain at the mobilization level as there is no mandate for Operators and Mechanics to be certified. IESC has approached the concerned Ministries to mandate deployment of trained and skilled personnel in all their tenders, albeit in a phased manner.

Expanding the Skill Ecosystem for Benefit of Infrastructure Equipment Sector

As per an analysis by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), India’s CE industry is set to reach $25 Bn from the current $6.5 Bn. To achieve this, the industry needs skilled workforce. What efforts have been made by the IESC and the key stakeholders in the industry to strengthen the skill development initiatives in the sector and create a pool of certified manpower?
About 44 OEMs have already joined hands with IESC to train and provide employment in the CE Industry. Most of these OEMs have invested in setting up world-class training centres; since the Capex and Opex is quite high in our sector, private training partners need hand holding by the OEMs.

Expanding the Skill Ecosystem for Benefit of Infrastructure Equipment Sector

We have started a Centre of Excellence at the National Academy of Construction in Hyderabad, under the aegis of the Telangana Government. This organization is supported by donations of machines and other infra requirements, along with full servicing of machines by the OEMs. We expect that this scheme could attract over 4000 candidates per year in the near future.

In the catchment area of Saran in Bihar, IESC has started a Heavy Equipment Training Centre, which is not only providing training but also employment to deserving candidates.

L&T CMB has collaborated with ITI’s of Odisha to train mechanics in hydraulics in the mining segment at Barbil. A majority of the ITI’s will be drawn to this program for providing training in other jobs in the mining segment along with local employment to deserving candidates.

Volvo, a keen promoter of skilling, is conducting operator contests and giving the winners cash awards, besides providing them an opportunity to participate in the Group’s ‘world skill contest’ held in different countries. Volvo has joined hands with GMR Constructions at Hyderabad and Delhi for not only offering high-cost equipment like excavators, along with trained operators and mechanics, but is also absorbing the running cost of the machines, which is again a significant step in the industry.
Training programs are now expanding into important equipment segments with the addition of different machine types and job roles; this will enable trained candidates to get employment across various segments in the CE industry

JCB has donated over 10 Backhoe Loaders to different private training partners across the country and is also covering their operational costs.

Training programs are now expanding into other important segments with the addition of different machine types and job roles. Such a qualitative approach will enable trained candidates to get employment through their dealers and customers across various segments in the CE industry.

In the mining segment, Tata Hitachi and Volvo have taken additional training steps by mounting simulators for mining machines (like 20 feet containers mounted on trucks or trailers). This will help in upskilling both the fresh and existing operators by ‘going to their doorsteps’ and encouraging customers to depute their field personnel for training, and without loss of production and training costs.

IESC has joined hands with Tata Projects and Advani Skill Development, both of whom have mandated deployment of only skilled and certified personnel to operate and maintain their machines, including for their sub-contractors. This is a major step that needs to be replicated by other major corporate contractors.

Though talent is not an issue, lack of trained, skilled manpower in relation to heavy earthmoving equipment is a major concern in India. Today, most manufacturers have invested in setting up world-class training facilities; many offer their operators to their clients, and also impart training to customers’ workforce, apart from providing training at jobsites. The OEMs have also realised that a trained workforce will help in growing their business.

What is the current demand-supply scenario of skilled manpower for construction and mining equipment?
Taking the projections from the recent BCG report released by the Indian Construction Equipment Manufacturers Association (ICEMA is also the promoter of IESC), sale of machines are projected to grow three times by 2030 from the current sale of 75,000 units per annum.

As per the thumb rule, every machine requires two operators, and one mechanic for 12 - 15 machines. IESC is gearing up to meet this requirement by training and providing employment to over one lakh candidates every year. The challenges are:
  • Financial viability of the Training Centres due to high cost of Capex / Opex / Land Cost (for hands-on training)
  • Mandating use of IESC certified Operators and Mechanics across the industry through a government regulation
  • Government support on Common Cost Norms at a realistic level to promote private training partners to join the skilling ecosystem.
As an apex body on skill development for the CE industry, how do you plan to tackle the issue of training more and more operators and mechanics to meet demand?

As the apex body, IESC coordinates the skill development efforts of various government bodies, agencies, and OEMs, and has lined up the following tasks:
Upskilling of existing workforce: The CE Industry’s vast pool of experienced operators and mechanics (but not formally certified) will be brought into the fold through the RPL Model (Recognition of Prior Learning). All the stakeholders (primarily the end-users) through apex bodies like Builders Association of India, Excavators Association of India, Crane Owners Association, Aerial Lift Platform Association of India, Construction Equipment Rental Association as well as PSUs like Coal India Limited (to name a few), are being proactively engaged.

Formulating NOS & QPs to bridge gaps: Presently, all the QPs of IESC are at Levels 3, 4 and 7. With multi-skilling being the mantra of the day, IESC has embarked on formulating QPs at NSQF Levels 5 & 6 which will recognise the skills of operators who are adept in operating different machines and will also facilitate their career progression.

Training of Highway Construction Operators: Proposals for training and certification of equipment operators employed at various project sites under the aegis of NHAI/NHIDC/BRO have been submitted to the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways and are under active consideration.

Establishing Centres of Excellence in Zones: Proposals for establishing and operating Training Centres / Centres of Excellence in various zones have been submitted to the Line Ministry (Department of Heavy Industries). Government support in terms of land and finance for setting up infrastructure facilities is critical for third party organizations to take up this project.

Engaging State Skill Development Missions: While IESC has, since its inception, signed MoUs with various states, these have only recently garnered attention at the highest executive level. IESC is now pro-actively reaching out to various State Skill Development Missions that have expressed interest to join hands with IESC in empowering their labour force, especially in the rural areas.

Reaching out to the Academia: Proposal for training and certification of diploma and engineering students in their final semester at NSQF Levels 3 & 4 is at an advance stage of implementation. As a pilot, select colleges have already been identified by an independent Training Partner.

Apprenticeship Training for Operators: Select OEMs and well-established end-users are being engaged to conduct Apprenticeship Programs for Operators.

Enhancing Common Cost Norms: A comprehensive study has been carried to calculate the cost of training for all programs whose QPs have been formulated by IESC. These are now being considered and processed by the Ministry (MSDE) for Central and State Government sponsored programs. It is critical that the reimbursement rates should match the actual cost of training to make it financially viable for a Training Partner/Centre. This will greatly facilitate empanelment of more partners in the skill ecosystem.
IESC has approached the concerned Ministries to mandate deployment of trained and skilled personnel in all their tenders, albeit in a phased manner. This will be a major step that needs to be taken across the industry

Mandating of Licensed Operators: While the case for mandating only trained and certified personnel to operate the construction equipment is under examination by the Centre IESC has concurrently taken up this case with MoRTH to implement it in a phased manner for their highway construction projects. IESC has also projected to IRDAI (Insurance Regulator) the need for recognition of the IESC skill certificate.

What activities are being undertaken or planned by IESC to scale up its operations?
IESC has, over the past seven years, established a strong foundation and framework for the skill ecosystem and is poised to meet the demand for skilled manpower in the CE industry. In fact, IESC is responsible for meeting the human resource requirement of the entire value chain of the Construction & Mining Equipment Sector. IESC also has ambitious plans to scale up its operations in terms of training and certifications, especially in Tier 2 & 3 cities and in rural areas. These skilling initiatives will go a long way in furthering the growth of the CE Industry. To ensure that the human resource pool size as well as quality meets the growing and evolving demands of the CE Industry, the following tasks will be undertaken:

Expanding the Skill Ecosystem for Benefit of Infrastructure Equipment Sector

Research and aggregate skill requirements of the Industry including sub-sector requirements, regional requirements, and international trends and best practices can be introduced in the domestic skill development space.

Create skill database of the current and future skill requirements, both in terms of numbers as well as types of skills, and investigate the underlying reasons for skill gaps.

Identify changing technologies such as telematics, remote connectivity, autonomous driving, electric/alternate fuel technologies, etc., in the sector and collate technology specific skills which may be required in the future. Besides technical skills, list out soft skill requirements in terms of content, depth of coverage required, and practical training requirements.

Regulate skill development activities including development of National Occupational Standards and Qualifications.

Collaborate with CE industry to map typical job profiles, develop occupational and competency standards for each of the job profiles/roles in the industry, and the career path for all role holders.

Collate and disseminate labour market information with respect to number of people getting direct and indirect employment in various areas of the industry.

Build Capacity for training delivery and help in developing training curriculums and assessment criteria, identify institutes which would partner for training and train the trainers.

Provide quality assurance via accreditation & certification of training delivery bodies and awarding certification to trainees. Accreditation will include approving the course content, infrastructure requirements, certification of faculty, etc. Certification criteria will be developed in conjunction with the government bodies and agencies.

Expanding the Skill Ecosystem for Benefit of Infrastructure Equipment Sector

Build a communication strategy that helps in ‘glamorizing’ the role of the operator and mechanic and thereby making it more attractive and respectable for prospective trainees.

Create a robust placement procedure by engaging with the user industry. Network with government agencies to ensure alignment and create synergy by engaging with other relevant industry bodies.

Foster entrepreneurship and support affirmative action. Pick available industry best practices and build upon them.

What are the emerging trends in skill requirements in the CE Industry?
  • Technology and Mechanisation: The level of mechanization has gone up considerably with telematics, mobile apps, drones, robots with 3D printing technology. Increase in Operational Controls with Telematics & Mobile app etc. would decrease the number of unskilled workforce and even the minimally educated would require some skill building/vocational training.
  • Ergonomic design of construction equipment: Construction Equipment manufacturers in India are increasingly moving towards more ergonomic designs of the equipment produced, with the final aim of increasing productivity of the equipment on the field.
  • Hybrid and electric drives for Construction Equipment: Hybrid-electric drives are increasingly replacing traditional mechanical and hydraulic systems in construction gear, which help improve efficiency, lower operating costs, and lead to lower emissions as compared to traditional hydraulic and mechanical systems.
  • Integrated / transformable construction/mining equipment: It is expected that construction equipment that can perform more than one operation and which can be transformed from one physical configuration to another based on the requirement, will make way into the construction equipment segment. This will lead to skill requirements not only at the design end, but also at the user-end; operators will need skills for performing multiple operations using such machines.
  • Increasing complexity of operating and maintenance of equipment with overall safety: As the construction/mining equipment increases in handling capacity, and as operations in cement and steel become more complex, there is a need for skilled operators and maintenance personnel for handling such machines.
  • Increasing use of Aerial Work Platforms: These enable ease of working safely at heights and consist of machines such as Aerial Work Platforms, Telescopic Boom Lifts, Articulating Boom Lifts, and Scissor Lifts.
What are the bottlenecks and what measures will IESC take to clear them?
Machine performance and productivity are dependent on operator skills and when the operator is not trained or skilled enough, there can be some serious implications on equipment performance. This is especially challenging for manufacturers of machines with advanced systems and controls. Though the CE industry has multiple skill requirements, 75% of the demand is for basic and supervisory skills, including skills to operate machines such as cranes of different types, hoists, dumpers, forklift trucks, and aerial ropeways, among others.

Maintenance Personnel: CE manufacturers struggle to cope with the low availability of trained manpower, not only for producing equipment but also for operation and maintenance. Manufacturers are doing their best to train not only their own employees but also customers’ operators and services technicians. Currently, the government’s skill training programmes are not market driven and there are funding woes, institutional challenges, quality issues, and student constraints.

Revising Academic Curriculum: Another major issue is the gap in academic curriculum vis-à-vis the market requirement. There is urgent need for upgrading the course content and syllabus, to be in tune with the technological development in the CE industry. The present technical education system is not geared to supply the manpower to precisely suit the CE industry. A drastic revision of the current curriculum of technical institution and more practical courses specific to the CE industry at all levels, are called for.

To remove the bottlenecks, the following initiatives are required:
  • setting up more ITIs
  • running shorter duration but more targeted courses in the Training Institutes
  • broadening the intake of apprentices
  • improving practical training quality
  • providing training stipends
  • setting up driving schools.
How does IESC plan to attract more and more candidates to its training programs?
By making CE Industry attractive! Increased awareness among the younger generation about the CE industry as a career choice is vital. This can be done by increased publicity at colleges, seminars, exhibitions and better industry and institution interactions.

For the first time, to highlight the activities of IESC, a large stall exhibiting 2 simulators for ‘hands-on training’ covering different equipment like Graders, Excavators, Wheel Loaders etc was set up. It was the main attraction for the visitors. Discussions were held with major Corporates, Contractors, Field Managers, Supervisors, Operators & Mechanics to promote the skilling initiatives of the Government of India and the benefits of joining the ‘skilling ecosystem’.

The other success story was demonstrated by the IESC certified ‘Lady Operators’ to highlight ease of operation of equipment like Excavators, Backhoe Loaders, Cranes etc. This also showcased the ‘empowerment of women’ in the Industry, with IESC being in the forefront to certify lady operators thereby enhancing their standard and quality of life.

IESC also joins hands with various Awards Schemes to recognize the industry’s contribution towards innovation, automation and digitalization. It has also recognized some of the best OEMs for their contribution to the skilling of Operators & Mechanics in the CE Industry.
NBM&CW January 2022
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